NORTH CAROLINA — Floodwaters were starting to recede last week upstream
along the Tar, Pamlico, Cape Fear and Neuse rivers, but an increasingly
contaminated flow of freshwater is headed downriver, eastward to the
The short-term prospects don’t look good for those ready for their first taste of local oysters this season.
the river basins, sounds and tidal areas of eastern North Carolina
researchers, environmental advocates and an array of state agencies are
gearing up testing to get an idea of what effects the floodwaters are
likely to have.
template for anticipating Matthew’s continuing effects has been 1999’s
Hurricane Floyd. And like the aftermath of that disaster, much of the
concern right now is what happens to Pamlico Sound, the nation’s second
Peierls, a researcher with the University of North Carolina’s Institute
of Marine Sciences in Morehead City, said teams from the institute
began sampling the Neuse River last week, looking for a range of
said researchers will be sampling for dissolved oxygen chlorophyll and
measuring the amount of organic matter in the river. For now, he said,
the sheer amount of moving water will probably reduce some of the
Matthew, as in Floyd, there’s a lot of water coming down. It probably
contains a good amount of nutrients as it washes through the watershed,
but at the same time you can get a dilution effect,” Peierls said. “The
more you wash out, the less that’s in there, so the concentrations
aren’t always as extreme as they might be. But you’re still bringing a
lot of water and a lot of particulate matter with that water.”
heavy water flow, he said, the effects of additional nitrogen, which
could lead to algae blooms, might not be as great. “If you have a lot
of water moving through the system there’s not time for biomass to
the surge of freshwater flowing down the Neuse will influence the
estuary is also a focus, Peierls said. A major concern is
stratification, in which a top layer of freshwater reduces the amount
of dissolved oxygen in the saltier waters below. That can put stress on
fish and potentially lead to fish kills.
the freshwater becomes more of a lens on top, and we get salty water
underneath and the temperatures are high enough, that generally is a
recipe for oxygen decline,” Peierls said.
FLYING THE RIVERS, PLANNING FOR TESTS
Fear Watch Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette is part of a group of North
Carolina riverkeepers who have spent more time reviewing the effects of
Hurricane Matthew from the air than from the water.
and environmental advocates took to the skies shortly after Matthew
cleared the coast, keeping an eye on hog waste lagoons and other
potential sources of significant contamination.
an interview last week, Burdette said that although he hasn’t seen any
breaches, there were several waste lagoons in the Black River and
Northeast Cape Fear River watersheds that were surrounded by
saw lots of lagoons that were totally surrounded by water and there
appeared to be just inches between the tops of the berms and the
floodwaters,” he said.
lagoons have been spotted by riverkeepers in the Tar, Neuse and Cape
Fear river basins. State agriculture officials estimated in mid-October
that at least 11 waste lagoons had been flooded.
said the flights he’s made over southeastern North Carolina revealed
just how widespread the flooding was, as well as the effects. He said
that in addition to seeing flooded barns and fields, it was easy to
spot petroleum slicks atop the water.
I was flying, the landscape was so flooded,” he said. “You could see
something flowing into the water out of barns or from other sites, but
you couldn’t get an idea of what it was or how much.”
for testing for contaminants and the effects of Matthew have started,
Burdette said, but for now the waters are too high to get an accurate
been waiting for the water to get down to a point where it is
reasonable to start testing,” Burdette said. “It’s just everywhere
major concern is the disposal of massive numbers of livestock that died
in the flooding. According to early estimates by the state, more than 2
million chickens and turkeys and several thousand hogs have been killed
OYSTER HARVEST DELAYED
Oyster season opened as announced on Oct. 15, but the harvest is halted at nearly every spot on the North Carolina coast.
would have been certain, given just the heavy rains the storm dumped on
the coast and more than 100 miles inland, but with the prospect of a
lot of nutrients flowing downstream, the state is stepping up testing
as it reviews when it’s safe to reopen the oyster beds.
Jenkins, Shellfish Sanitation and Water Quality section chief for the
North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, said four water-testing
teams are working along the coast to determine whether beds can be
Jenkins said some portions of Pamlico, Core, Back and Bogue sounds are open, but the most productive areas are not.
“Effectively, most productive oyster areas are closed due to the rainfall and coastal flooding,” he said.
Most were closed early because of the amount of rainfall, which in some areas reached 15 inches in less than a day.
said given the stretch of dry weather, he expected areas to begin to
open up soon. Harvesting areas where water tends to move faster, such
as near inlets and in faster flowing rivers, are likely to be first to
open, he said.
water bodies and watersheds are quicker to return to normal,” Jenkins
said. As an example, he said, a faster-moving river, such as the New
River, is likely to return to satisfactory status sooner than the
slower-flowing Newport River.
Crews began sampling in Brunswick County on Monday of last week and were working Down East beds in Carteret County on Tuesday.
said if the weather holds, he expects most areas to be open by the
start of the mechanical harvest period in mid-November.